Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why rhythm drives Eliza Robertson's writing process

The author of Demi-Gods answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
Eliza Robertson is the author of the novel Demi-Gods and short story collection Wallflowers. (Ellie Gillard)

Told through the golden lens of adolescent summers, Demi-Gods begins with Willa, aged 9 and already able to feel the cracks in her family's faulty foundation. This heightened sense of observation follows Willa throughout her life, which she provides glimpses into through a series of increasingly electric encounters with her stepbrother Patrick.

Demi-Gods is Eliza Robertson's first novel, following her award-nominated short story collection Wallflowers. In the CBC Books' Magic 8 Q&A, Robertson fields eight questions about writing from eight fellow authors.

1. Barbara Gowdy asks, "Are there any other writers in your family? Are there any artists of any kind? Have there ever been?"

There are no writers, per se. At least no one self-defines that way. But my dad was an artist. He went to art school in the 1960s and became a museum exhibit designer.

2. Emily Schultz asks, "Which do you prefer to write: characters that are more like you or less like you?"

I prefer to write characters that are less like me, though it involves more work. Maybe for that reason, a lot of stories I wrote during my PhD have circled erratic young women in foreign cities… *cough*

3. Michael DeForge asks, "How often do you feel jealousy towards other writers? Do you feel guilty about it?"

Oh, all the time. And yes: I hate it. For me there are two strands: (1) envy of another writer's success or (2) envy of their work — because it's genuinely good. The second strand is productive, at least. It pushes me to try new things.

4. Rachel Cusk asks, "Name some of the rituals or habits you indulge in while writing."

I write first thing, which means I wear whatever I slept in. I light incense. I measure productivity in cups of tea and coffee.

5. Vivek Shraya asks, "What has been the most surprising question you have been asked at a Q&A/writer event/panel?"

In Wallflowers, there's a story about a girl who plants slugs in her roommate's chestnut paste. I'm surprised how many people ask if it's autobiographical.

(OK, it is in part. But do I look like a person who kills slugs?)

6. Douglas Coupland asks, "Do you ever say to yourself, 'I'm just tired of doing this. I'm going to stop.' If so, what do you then say to get yourself back?"

I haven't said that to myself yet, though there's time. I don't get tired of the writing so much as its accompanying neuroses. To get through, I leave the internet. Go for a walk. Listen to music or a podcast. Then I come back the next day.

7. Eden Robinson asks, "What was the most unexpected inspiration you've ever had?"

Two weeks ago, on the train from Montreal to New York, I sat next to a woman studying urban breastfeeding in China. I'm still trying to work that into a story.

8. André Alexis asks, "Are you conscious of the rhythm that paragraphs have, their length, when you're writing? Or is that something you work on as a form of sculpture afterwards?"

Ha — I wrote my PhD thesis on this question. For me, rhythm initiates the creative process. When I begin a story, I'm sounding something out. And this entity I'm sounding — call it a beat or rhythm — emerges as I go. Am I conscious of the rhythm while writing? No. But I'm subconsciously listening for it and trying to grasp the edges. Certainly, the flow of paragraphs, their length, the hardness of syllables I end on — the shape — materializes as I write rather than at the editing stage.


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